Al Jaffee recently announced his retirement. Unlike Stan Lee, you may not recognize the name. But Jaffee earned the Guinness World Record for the “Longest Career as a Comic Artist” when he was 95. That was four years ago. I’m pretty sure, he still holds the title.
Jaffee has been a working comic artist for over 77 years. While he drew for many publishers, most of his career has been spent at the infamous Mad Magazine.
In 1964, he created its infamous fold-in comic which shows one image until the picture is folded horizontally inward, creating a secondary secret picture. The first one showed Elizabeth Taylor kissing Richard Burton with a cop holding back a crowd as it trampled her former husband, Eddie Fisher. Fold in the image along the line and she was kissing someone else entirely.
His editor loved it and asked for more. Jaffee obliged until 2019.
His other work included numerous illustrations and articles, including his ever-popular “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” That one developed during his divorce as a means to exorcise his marital hostility.
Yes, he took his cues from both real life and his own personal theory that “to be alive is to be constantly beleaguered by annoying idiots.” Consequently during the Vietnam War, Jeffee created “Hawks and Doves,” the trials and tribulations of Major Hawks who was constantly undermined by Private Doves’ efforts to post peace signs all over his military base.
Although that storyline didn’t last, Jaffee spent decades lampooning celebrities, pop culture and the politics of the day. But more so, he inspired others to take chances too – and not just cartoonists.
In 1995, Mad TV hit the airwaves. In 2005, recording artist Beck used Jaffee’s fold-in comics in the video for his song “Girl.” He even received on-screen credit. For Jaffee’s 85th birthday, The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert created a fold-in birthday cake in his honour.
And in 2010, The Daily Show was launching a book called “America” and asked him to contribute a fold-in for it. Then the producer asked him to deliver it in person so that the whole crew could meet him. According to Jon Stewart and the writers, without Mad Magazine’s inspiration, there wouldn’t be a Daily Show.
Even inventors have pointed to Jaffee as their muse. The artist’s comics often included drawings of machinery – non-existent and bizarre – but done in a way that made them look functional. So some inventors ran with them.
In one patent filing for a self-extinguishing cigarette, the inventor actually thanked him for the concept. Jaffee didn’t mind. He said creating the idea was the fun part. Plus, he didn’t have to figure out how to actually manufacture it.
Jaffee’s won numerous awards over his 99 years. Fellow Mad writer, Desmond Devlin once described Jaffee as “smart but silly, angry but understanding, sophisticated but gross, upbeat but hopeless.” And fans who didn’t know his name, loved him.
I guess when you’re a little off-balance in a world off-kilter, you just see things straighter than most.